Acoustical Society of America
Wallace Clement Sabine Award - 1979

Cyril M. Harris

Cyril M. Harris is being awarded the Wallace Clement Sabine Medal of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) for his contributions to architectural acoustics. He is well known for his consulting work on concert halls, particularly the refurbishing of Avery Fisher Hall in New York, but has also been active in many other important areas of acoustics, such as noise control.

Harris's lifelong interest in sound began with his visits to the Warner Brothers film studios, across the street from his junior high school in Hollywood, where talking pictures were just being developed. He later studied acoustics at UCLA, where he received a B.A. degree in 1938 and the M.A. in 1940. He next went to MIT to work under Professor Philip Morse, where his Ph.D. thesis (1945) related the measurement of the acoustic impedance of the wave theory of room acoustics.

Harris joined the technical staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories under Dr. Harvey Fletcher. Besides developing an interest in physiological and psychological acoustics, Harris had the opportunity to work with such pioneers in acoustics as J. C. Steinberg and W. A. Munson. While at Bell Labs, Harris published numerous technical papers on room acoustics, sound absorption, and acoustical impedance, and in 1950 published his first book, Acoustical Designing in Architecture, with Dr. Vern Knudsen.

After working at the London Branch of the Office of Naval Research (1951), and lecturing in acoustics, at the Technical University of Delft, in the Netherlands (1951-1952), he joined the faculty of Columbia University, where he replaced Visiting Professor Harvey Fletcher, who was retiring. He has remained at Columbia ever since and is now Charles Batchelor Professor of Electrical Engineering, a Professor of Architecture, and Chairman of the Division of Architectural Technology. He teaches courses in architectural acoustics, noise control, theoretical and experimental acoustics, and the legal aspects of noise control.

Since 1952 Harris has been the acoustical consultant for numerous concert halls, lecture halls, opera houses, and theatres. Perhaps the most difficult acoustical design problem was that of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington D.C., which lies directly beneath the landing approach to National Airport; even for aircraft flying as low as 100 yards above the Center, no noise can be heard in any of the auditoriums. Besides the Kennedy Center and Avery Fisher Hall, Harris has done the acoustical design for Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Powel Symphony Hall in St. Louis, the National Center for the Performing Arts in Bombay, India, the National Academy of Science Auditorium in Washington, D.C., and the recently opened Symphony Hall in Salt Lake City.

Harris has published many research papers in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and other technical journals on subjects that range from the absorption of sound in air to the acoustical characteristics of highland bagpipes. He has written several books in addition to Acoustical Designing in Architecture. In 1961 he edited, with C. E. Crede, a three volume Shock and Vibration Handbook, which he revised as a second edition in 1976. He edited the Dictionary of Architecture and Construction (1975), the Historical Architectural Sourcebook (1977), and has recently prepared the second edition of his 1957 classic Handbook of Noise Control.

Harris is a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America. He served on the Executive Council (1954-1957), was Vice President (1960-1961), and President (1964-1965) of the Society, and was an Associate Editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (1959-1971). He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and several other professional societies and advisory boards.

In 1977 Harris received the Franklin Medal, which is given annually for lifelong achievements in science or the application of science to industry. Thomas Edison, who was an Honorary Member of the Acoustical Society, is the only other member of the Society to have received this honor. Harris has also received an Honorary Award from the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology (1977) and the Emile Berliner Award (1977).

Cyril M. Harris has had a productive and varied career in acoustics. He has made significant contributions to the theoretical foundations of acoustics while also demonstrating that the science of sound can be applied to practical effect, as in the control of noise and in the design of concert halls. This integration of cultural and scientific endeavors has made his career distinctive.

Paul B. Ostergaard